Vicar Matt Doebler
Matins Devotion: May 18, 2023
We don’t really know what exactly prompts the disciples to turn to Jesus and say, “Increase our faith.” Perhaps it’s connected to the earlier stern warning he gives about being an instrument of temptation which supplants the faith of another. Or, perhaps it’s connected somehow to Jesus’ demand that they always be willing to forgive and restore a repentant brother. Whatever the case, whatever the cause—one thing is clear. The disciples don’t really understand faith very well at all.
Now, this is an instance where our English translation is a bit unhelpful when it comes to understanding exactly what the disciples are requesting. After all, “Lord, increase our faith” seems like a good prayer. Even St. Paul writes to the Corinthian church and speaks positively about his hope and desire that their faith would “increase.” (2 Cor. 10:15) So what’s going on?
Well, as it turns out, we’re dealing with two different Greek words. When St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, the word he uses means to grow—to become stronger. Yet, when the disciples say “Increase our faith” the word they use means to add a quantifiable amount to something. Like when you’re parked downtown and the meter asks if you want to add more time. This is the same word Jesus uses earlier in Luke’s gospel when he asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” So here we see that the disciples are thinking of faith not as something relational…not in terms of trust in God’s promise, but as something that can be measured, and counted, and quantified.
This smacks of something called fideism. That is, having faith in faith. Fideism happens when we forget that faith is the instrument—the hands—by which we grasp the promises of Christ. Fideism transforms faith from an instrument to an idol. Faith becomes no longer about its object, but and end unto itself.
You can see this impulse in a lot of revivalist Christianity. I remember back in my evangelical days, there was this really popular worship song that just simply said, “I want more, more of you Lord. More, more of you Lord. I want to hold you, love you, not let you go—renew this fire that’s within my soul—I want more, more of you Lord.” That’s kind of getting close to fideism. It’s this self-centered idea that it’s the amount of faith in me that gives the power—that wins the battles—that guarantees results. It turns the Christian life into a competition. A never-ending contest to see who can have more faith.
But genuine faith is not determined by how much you have—like counties the pennies in your pocket. Rather, genuine faith is determined by who your faith is anchored to. That’s what we sang in our hymn just a moment ago, “I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ my God and Lord.” That’s why Jesus can say to his disciples, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this [giant] tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Because faith’s sufficiency is not determined by its quantity—but by its foundation. Even the smallest, weakest faith that is built upon Christ is great enough to move mountains. It is great enough to uproot the blackest, most gnarled roots of your sin and hurl it into the depths of the sea where it is drowned in a flood of God’s mercy and sunk to the very lowest depths of God’s forgetfulness. Even the smallest amount of faith in Christ is enough to break the grip of sin, unloose the bonds of death, and rescue you from the power of the devil.
So don’t fret whether you have enough faith. Rather, let the promises of God’s Word fill you with the hope, and peace, and joy, and assurance that come from knowing who your faith is anchored to.
“In life and death, Lord keep us, until your heaven we gain. Where we by your great mercy, [will] the end of faith attain.”